Mexico — To Be or Not To Be?

I have a dilemma here, a subject on which I would like your feedback.

I’ve been invited to be a guest at a comic convention this summer in Mexico City. I love Mexico and its people. I’m a notorious foodie, and Mexico has the finest, most varied and oldest complex cuisine in the world. My family and I have done extensive travel around various parts of Mexico and lived in Mexico City for most of a year while making Conan the Destroyer. We have had incredible times in Mexico.

Sadly, since those visits, Mexico (especially in recent years) has become a very dangerous place to visit. Kidnapping has become a cottage industry in Mexico City. My friends who still live there warn me not to return, even for a quick visit. The teen son of friends of friends was kidnapped. After the ransom was paid, the kidnappers left their son’s body for them in an abandoned car. Yes; after they paid the ransom.

I live in Los Angeles and have spent some extended periods of time in New York. I know that folks outside these cities consider them to be very dangerous. I don’t. Having lived in both places, I know where the bad neighborhoods are and avoid them. No reasonable person would judge all of L. A. solely from a visit to a bad stretch of Compton or New York from a visit to the worst parts of Harlem (to Harvey Kurtzman’s horror, Harlem was the first place I visited in New York; I found it wonderful). The news loves heinous crimes (“If it bleeds, it leads”), so that’s often what gets reported — not the nice things that happen in those cities on a daily basis. This makes me wonder if my newly established fears of visiting Mexico are perhaps a bit exaggerated and unfounded.

I’d be taking my wife, a beautiful blonde who surprisingly (to the Mexican natives, anyway) speaks fluent Spanish. We have been in one extremely scary situation (with the Mexican police in Merida; another story for another time) in the past, but my wife and I consider that an aberration, especially considering the wealth of positive experiences and people we have encountered throughout Mexico.

I hate the thought of giving in to the Mexican criminals and allowing them to control where I can and can’t visit — or who their own people can or can’t see and meet. It is not in my nature to succumb to that type of bullying; it’s more natural to me to defy and stand up to it.

Of course, if I’m a guest and there is any publicity in that regard at all, that could easily make me (or my wife) a potential target.

As you can see, I am conflicted here. What do you think? Give in to a somewhat reasonable fear or take the risk on behalf of my fans down there?

17 Responses to “Mexico — To Be or Not To Be?”

  1. Rick Catizone says:

    Bill,

    I would hate to prevent people in Mexico from meeting you in person. I know how much it has meant to me. However…..

    My mom passed away last week, and I saw a cousin I hadn’t seen in over a year. He explained that he had been in Mexico, taken by the police, held prisoner, beaten, etc….for several weeks……

    They finally released him, and he asked for his cash, motorcycle, and wallet and passport back. He had to leave without any of it. They told him to leave before they changed their minds. He walked out of Mexico and had to declare his U.S. citizenship and go through the rest of it. Actually, he’s lucky they just didn’t kill him.

    I know some places may still be safe, but personally I don’t know that I would risk it since things have escalated over the last few years. I don’t know what assurances they could give you, and then there is usually some travel between or to the “safe” area that bandits might haunt.

    Best,
    Rick

  2. James Van Hise says:

    If the kind of organized wholesale slaughter taking place in Mexico (war is not an unreal description of what is happening) was taking place anywhere in the US, the Army and the National Guard would be sent in and martial law would be declared. Not only are the police in Mexico outnumbered, many of them have been bought off by the drug cartels. There is a notorious case of a police official in Mexico City who tried to clean up his department but was executed by the corrupt police officers he was trying to get rid of. Mexicans used to just come to the US to get better jobs, but now they are literally fleeing for their lives.

  3. jim says:

    Bill, I know exactly where you’re at. The first time I went into New York I think my mother wanted me to wear full body armor. I’m from the Mid-west with friends in the east, and I was going into “Taxi Driver” Manhatten (early 80’s). Nowhere close to todays open shopping mall/Vegas strip look Times Square experience of today. But, I was fine and really enjoyed walking all over the island (though not Harlem).
    But if your friends in Mexico are warning you off that may be a red flag.
    Or
    “Be bold and mighty forces shall come to your aid” or something like that.
    What would Yoda say? Choose wisely and keep safe.

  4. Craig Popplewell says:

    I agree with Rick. I don’t think it’s worth the risk. If your friends in Mexico are saying not to visit that seems like a pretty good argument against going.

  5. Bill says:

    Thanks, guys. My gut impulse would be to go if it was just me; but I definitely do not want to take the chance of putting my wife in harm’s way. And, if I was a kidnapper, that’s who I would go for. Easy target (less likely to do damage fighting back than a guy my size might be capable of) and the husband would be perceived as being more likely (and more easily able) to raise the ransom money than the wife.

    Any of my Mexican fans care to weigh in?

    It’s hard to express what it’s like to be in a country where, if you find yourself in trouble, you might be dramatically increasing your risk and danger by going to the police (having said that, my wife and I did meet one very fine, decent and protective police officer there who protected us from some bad types near La Lagunillas, the big Sunday flea market).

    I don’t know if any of you have seen the film “Man On Fire” with Denzel Washington (I think he’s at his best in this film). I highly recommend this fine, gritty and visceral Tony Scott film. I found it to be a very true, quite accurate glimpse of several of the different layers of life I knew, encountered or heard about while I was living in Mexico City (unfortunately).

  6. My wife wanted some defense tools when I was not home or out with her. For the home I got her a large spray can of WASP & HORNET spray. It shoots about 20 feet and is as serious as mace. She keeps it by her nightstand. And she has a can under the cash register at her business. For her car a spray can may overheat and rupture, so I got her a toy water pistol and filled it with ammonia. It fits nicely in her purse if she wants to take it when she is out . Neither need a permit and are powerful disablers, especially when shot at the eyes and face. All of these items can be bought in a shop on vacation and not a problem through customs. Just leave them when you get to the flight home. Inexpensive and effective. Still I don’t know if I would go into that war zone with my wife or family.

  7. Aaron says:

    I’d say it’s best to err on the side of safety, and it’s always wise to listen to the people on the ground. If your friends there say it isn’t safe, take their word for it.

    Best,
    Aaron

  8. Tom Ortega says:

    There are many, in the entertainment business, who have fled Mexico and live in the U.S. because of fear or personal threats of kidnapping.

    I googled, “Is Mexico City Safe? 2012” and got a CNN story
    It might be like you said, “If it bleeds, it leads” or it could be just the plain truth.

    http://www.cnn.com/2012/01/17/world/americas/mexico-city-security/index.html

    I vote don’t go if you can’t go exploring.
    P.S.
    I’m not related to Mr. Ortega mentioned in the story.

  9. I’ve often heard artists say they owe their fans good work, and that anything beyond that is a bonus. Maybe offer a Skype appearance instead?

    As for going in person, though your natural inclination is to stand up to and defy bullies, it’s one thing to do that when the bullying is verbal or (for lack of a better way to say it) hand-to-hand…and quite another when automatic weapons are pointed at you.

    So if my friends who lived there told me not to come, and if I had personal experience that confirms the many reports saying I could find myself in even more trouble if the police got involved? That would tell me the risk is much too high.

  10. Belmo says:

    Bill,
    Stay home. Be safe.
    Belmo

  11. Román Arámbula says:

    MI querido amigo Bill, te escribo en español ya que dices que tu esposa habla nuestra hermosa lengua, entonces tu esposa te explicara, esta misiva.
    En primer lugar te dire que el peligro existe desde que nacemos….si te va ha tocar, te tocara aunque estes muy protejido sentadito en la sala de tu casa…( que tal si ocurre un terremoto? y se te cae la casa encima? Dios no lo quiera…)
    MI esposa cuando tenia el color natural de su pelo hera color castaño claro, considerado rubio cenizo y Hace cuatro meses fuimos a visitar la ciudad de México, y por doquier la jente siempre muy amable, tambien fuimos a la costa de Veracruz y gozamos de la amistad de la jente, no tengas miedo, estoy seguro que como invitado especial estaran siempre rodeados de admiradores y amigos…
    Te mando un cariñoso abrazo, tu amigo Román…

  12. Román Arámbula says:

    your comment, or my comment?I don’t know?… perhaps, no spanish??

  13. Bill says:

    Here is what my friend Román wrote (this is my translation — not my wife’s):
    My dear friend Bill,
    I write to you in Spanish. Because you say that your wife speaks our beautiful language, your wife can explain this letter.

    First I will tell you that danger exists from birth. If you’re going to play, you play. You may feel very protected sitting in a room of your house — but what if an earthquake occurs? And it drops your house into a crevasse? God forbid …

    My wife’s hair color was her natural light brown/ash blonde when we decided to visit Mexico City four months ago. The people everywhere were always very friendly. We also traveled to the coast of Veracruz. We enjoy the friendship of the local people without fear. I am sure as a special guest of the convention you would always surrounded by admirers and friends …

    I send you a warm hug,

    Your friend Roman …

  14. Rick catizone says:

    While I appreciate Roman’s thoughts, and it is true that we could die in our home from an earthquake, that is not the norm.

    If an area is known to have serious life-threatening issues, then it is exponentially more dangerous than places that don’t. It is not a guarantee, but one doesn’t invite trouble.

    You say you avoid the bad areas where you live. Why? Because you know the danger level is much, much higher, and in fact probably predictable.

    You said your FRIENDS who live there have warned you not to come. Heed the advice of friends…especially ones who know the area better than we do. I know it is hard to say “no” to someone. At the same time, you need to acknowledge the truth of what your friends are telling you. If they were my friends, I’d trust their judgement and stay out of this one. It is always your call.

    Best,
    Rick

  15. Román Arámbula says:

    My dear Bill you did an excellent translation to my message, except, (cuando te va a tocar… te tocara aun en la sala de tu casa…) What I mean to say is: ( when is your time to finish your life, it will happen, even in the safety of your home, god forbid…)
    do what your heart tells you.
    your very best amigo,
    Román

  16. Ted A. Bohus says:

    Hi Bill.
    I say GO! BUT, leave the wife at home and go with a friend.

  17. Scott Rosema says:

    Bill,
    The potential for and of violence in Mexico, in the last few years, has risen to incredible levels; there is hard, factual, documented evidence. The drug cartels have raised the stakes against any and everyone who opposes them and have eliminated all aspects of limits on their vile actions.

    Now, as it may be true that not every area of Mexico is affected all the time, it’s also just as true that the cartels have become absolutely unpredictable. And THAT is the part that is most concerning to me. When those bastards are willing to do even the least of what they’ve done as of late, then they become too much of an x factor. I’d rather see you act on the side of caution and avoid any possible danger than to risk some serious trouble/danger.

    I’m right with you when it comes to facing down bullies, but these guys aren’t bullies; they’re sick animals. Human life, yours or anyone, is just a tool for them to use, abuse, or snuff out at a whim to achieve whatever demented goal they have. You are too precious as a person to put yourself into any unknown element situation.

    Just one more thing; Roman may make a good point in a philosophical sense but living there (if he does live in Mexico), where he has a long standing, lifetime stake in finding a way to be at peace with those odds, it’s natural to adopt a philosophy of harmony with his environment. But that’s not YOUR environment. Frankly, if more outside people refused to involve themselves with activities in Mexico, than I think THAT would add more to a call for change than defying the danger.

    And, I’d like to challenge Roman, his friends, family and entire country, to consider this point: Could it be about time that you replace the philosophical attitude of “what will happen, will happen” with an unshakable intolerance for the presence of monsters in your life? Just a thought…..

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